Superintendent's Newsletter

September 5, 2021

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Welcome Back to the 2021/2022 School Year!

Good Labor Day Weekend, Parents, Caregivers, Faculty and Staff:


We are overjoyed to return next Wednesday to our schools, kicking off what will be an amazing school year. We will welcome our ‘littles’ just turning three, through our post-grads who are enrolled in our strong Learning Support Transition Program.


Our enrollment numbers have bounced back to pre-COVID levels, and our freshman class is by far the largest we have seen in over 15 years with 213 students. Additionally, we welcome 236 kindergarteners in our WPS community! If you are new to Watertown Public Schools, you are in for a great educational experience and we are happy that you are here. And to those who are returning, we are committed to providing your children with the best possible and safest experience this school year, providing all of the necessary safety measures, supports, and scaffolds for success as we head back into a more familiar setting. What we have accomplished as a strong WPS community---not only this past year but for the past several years---is remarkable and commendable. I am proud to serve as the WPS Superintendent.


When I began four years ago, we formed the Strategy Development Team, whose charge was to determine our mission and how we would live that mission daily. Our mission is to prepare all students for life by engaging them in a challenging and meaningful education within a diverse and inclusive community. The team created four strategic objectives grounded in our Core Values of Equity, Excellence, and Community. Every day I see these core values alive in our classrooms and our schools, due to the tireless efforts and commitment of our dedicated WPS faculty and staff and the larger WPS community. This year, we begin the process of assessing where we are as a district, creating a vision for the next several years, and determining our strategy for continued improvement across the District.


We have several new staff members joining our community including 22 new teachers, 8 instructional assistants, two new assistant principals, Ms. Susan Carle and Mr. Qi Chen, our new Digital Learning & Libraries Coordinator, Dr. Susan Bisson, and our Director of Equity, Inclusion and Belonging, Dr. Kimberlee Henry. We hired administrative assistants, substitutes, tutors, and myriad other staff to ensure that every student gets what they need in our schools.


It is time to don our masks and reconnect in ways that are more akin to pre-pandemic life. It is time to celebrate our successes, while also acknowledging that last year was hard-- a year like no other. And it is time to continue supporting our educators on the front line as they infuse fun and joy in our classrooms through engaging teaching and learning. Together, we can ignite and inspire the next generation to be curious thinkers, empathetic and courageous leaders, and all-around-doers that our country and this world needs.


Sending my best wishes for a most rewarding school year.


Dr. Dede Galdston, Superintendent of Schools

Several of our new teachers gather at New Teacher Orientation held on August 31

COVID-19 Protocols and Consent for Pooled Testing-New Students and Students Returning from Remote Learning

Our utmost priority is to keep the students, staff, and the larger Watertown community safe this year, as we continue to provide our students with the best possible education during a pandemic. Vaccinations are the best way to keep our community safe, along with masking and universal COVID surveillance testing. At this time 98.8% of our faculty and staff are fully vaccinated, 69% of our 12-15 years-olds and 74% of our 16-19 year-olds have had at least one dose of the vaccine. All students and staff are required to wear masks indoors, and we will conduct mandatory COVID-19 surveillance pool testing once a week.


All students who attend Watertown Public Schools are required to participate in the surveillance COVID-19 testing program. The School Committee unanimously approved mandatory pool testing for students outlined in the updated 21/22 COVID-19 Handbook Addendum.


The purpose of this testing protocol is to identify and swiftly isolate asymptomatic and pre-symptomatic students who are COVID-19 positive. The Coronavirus, especially the Delta variant, is a highly contagious disease that spreads easily without proper safety mitigations. The return to school fully in person without a remote option for families requires a more stringent mitigation strategy, which includes mandatory testing for all students in Watertown.


COVID-19 universal surveillance pooled testing will be completed once a week with a non-invasive anterior nasal swab testing protocol and is mandatory for all students who are learning in-person. The test will be administered by a school nurse or a trained medical professional for students PreK-1 and can be self-administered for students in grades 2-12. No personal health information or personally identifiable data is shared, and only the school nurses have access to who is in a pool.


A child shall be exempted from the requirement for mandatory COVID-19 testing if a nurse practitioner, physician, or physician’s assistant determine that it is not possible due to medical condition(s), disability, tactile sensitivity, and other health or safety factors for the student to participate in COVID-19 testing. Religious exemptions may also be granted.


All NEW students (PreK students, kindergarten students, students returning from remote school, and new students to Watertown) will be required to fill out the “COVID Protocols and Consent for Pooled Testing” form prior to September 13. If you participated in the testing program last year, you do not need to fill out this form again.


If a pool comes back with a positive result, all members who were part of the pool will be offered free individual reflex COVID-19 testing through the District. A family may also choose to take their child to an outside clinic for a follow-up PCR test. A negative result on a PCR test will be required to return to school. See the COVID protocols for information regarding close contacts.


It is important to note that testing, combined with vaccinations, contact tracing, and isolation, helps control the spread of COVID-19 in Massachusetts. The availability of in-person instruction will be continually assessed using up-to-date data and guidelines provided by the Watertown Health Department, the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), and the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE).


If you have further questions, please contact me at Deanne.galdston@watertown.k12.ma.us, or Kathleen Desmarais, our Director of Student Services, at Kathleen.desmarais@watertown.k12.ma.us.


Thank you for working together to keep our community safe during the pandemic.

WPS Engages in an Equity Audit

In an effort to create a more inclusive environment for students and staff alike, the District has hired Public Consulting Group (PCG) to conduct a full-scale equity audit that will examine all aspects of the educational process including board policy, district programming, curriculum and instruction, human resource practices, budget allocations, and Watertown Public School’s (WPS) culture and climate.


In addition to reviewing the aforementioned areas, PCG is positioned to partner with WPS to accomplish our goal of employing strategies to identify and address implicit bias and systemic racism as part of an overall equity initiative.


Public Consulting Group (PCG) has assembled a unique project team to conduct the district-wide Equity Audit with expertise in educational equity and cultural competence, human resource management, English language learners, K-12 content, planning and facilitation, professional development and training, education leadership, qualitative and quantitative data methodologies, and project management. PCG strives to approach each project from an equity lens.


The Audit kicked off this summer with a Leadership Assessment Survey, as well as a review of available data. The PCG team will conduct individual interviews with several constituents, and will also conduct focus groups with students, parents, teachers, administrators, and community members as part of the audit process.


Upon completion of the data collection, PCG will provide Watertown with a report that will include an overview of the status of our efforts towards equity along with several recommendations for next steps. We anticipate this report being completed by January 2022, and the report along with the recommendations will be shared with the WPS community.

Watertown Builds for the Future

This year we open the doors to our new Cunniff and Hosmer Elementary Schools and the Early Childhood Center. The Cunniff officially opens on October 12 and the Hosmer will be opening on February 28. The Early Childhood Program may be in as early as February 7. Not only are these buildings beautiful, innovative, and awe-inspiring, they are also two of the first Zero Net Energy elementary school buildings in Massachusetts. They will produce the same, if not more, energy than they consume- no small feat! The Lowell will be moving out in February to make way for their addition/renovation project, while the high school continues to plan for its future home.


The architects presented their most updated design plans this past Wednesday for Watertown High School, and they are breathtaking. If you are interested in seeing the full presentation, it can be found here. The new Watertown High School will be building on the existing high school site and believe it or not, there will be a field, an outdoor multipurpose court, an indoor track, an underground parking garage, an early childhood classroom, several Chapter 74 programs, and the strong core academic program that will flourish in this new environment. Stay tuned for updates as we progress through the Schematic Design process.

Scenes from the New Cunniff Elementary School

Watertown School Committee Meeting

Monday, Sep. 13th, 7pm

This is an online event.

The School Committee will hold its first meeting of the 21/22 school year on Monday, September 13 in person in the Town Council Chamber located in the Watertown Town Hall. Members of the public are welcome to attend in person or to attend remotely via the following Zoom link. https://watertown-k12-ma-us.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_uqEnuymvRB6_Sa5mfRnNww

DATE CHANGED: School Resource Officer Meeting

Wednesday, Sep. 22nd, 5pm

68 Waverley Avenue

Watertown, MA

Watertown is fortunate to have two School Resouce Officers (SROs): one located at the high school and one at the middle school- both being responsive to all of our schools. It is not uncommon for parents and caregivers to ask about the role of the SROs. SROs have a diverse role in the school community and have many duties and responsibilities. We invite all Parents and Caregivers to please join us for a candid conversation with our Middle School and High School SROs on Wednesday, September 15th @ 5pm. The event will be held in a hybrid model- in person at Watertown Middle School and virtually via Zoom. You may also ask questions, confidentially, using the padlet link below.


https://padlet.com/kimberleehenry/sqasv9nhu8yuy5z0


Zoom:

https://watertown-k12-ma-us.zoom.us/j/87036416109


In Person Location:

Watertown Middle School Auditorium

WPS Community Conversations with the Superintendent

Tuesday, Sep. 28th, 9am

31 Marshall Street

Watertown, MA

You are invited to participate in Conversation Conversations with the Superintendent (formerly known as Superintendent's Coffee). These Community Conversations will be held in a hybrid format, with the in-person opportunity being held in Room 301 in the Phillips Administration Building, 31 Marshall Street, or for those who prefer to stay home participating via Zoom.


There are two Community Conversations: One at 9:00 am and one at 7:00 pm. The same Zoom link will be used for both, and for all subsequent Community Conversations.